I was so frustrated today when I couldn't find all the items on my list at Meijer. I thought they were supposed to have everything? I bought the things they did have, and decided to go to Target for the rest. I was annoyed, because I had so much to do - and I was in a hurry!
As I got into my car, I decided I would stop at my PO Box on the way to Target. I was completely absorbed in mentally checking off items on my to-do list as I waited to exit the parking lot. Then, as I looked to my right, to see if it was safe to pull out onto the road, I saw a man sitting on a walker, with a cardboard sign indicating he was hungry and a homeless veteran.
I noted him, and pulled out, turning left to continue on to the post office. But he was on my mind, and I thought maybe I should turn around. I began to recite all the tasks I needed to do. And I reminded myself how far behind I was. And how inconvenient the trip to Target was for me. I began to rationalize about how I had spent so much time the past week helping other people, and how much I needed to do yet this weekend to get ready to help more people next week. I reminded myself he was just one man, compared to the hundreds we were helping at The Torch, and other people could help him.
I left the post office, and my car drove me back to the Meijer parking lot. I parked and got out, walking toward the man. When I reached him, I was immediately struck by his very deep blue eyes. He watched me approach, and looked surprised when I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Rhonda, what's your name?"
"Fig", he answered with a smile.
"Fig?" I asked- "what's your last name?"
"Newton", he said, smiling bigger.
I have to admit, it took me a minute to put it together. Then I laughed and asked if Fig Newton was really his name. He said it was a nickname he had since he was 15 and that it bothered him then, but now he likes it because his real name is James, and that is very common. He said he had only met one other Fig Newton in his life.
I asked him to tell me his story - and Fig Newton told me he had been in the Army in the late fifties and early sixties. He then spent forty-nine years working the carnival circuit. He said it was a good life, that he never went hungry, and he and his wife raised a daughter in carnivals - and doing a multitude of odd jobs during the winter months. He said he worked until he was 72 years old, and his body just couldn't take it anymore.
For an hour I visited with Fig. He told me repeatedly how blessed his life has been. He explained that his wife died from cancer seven years ago, and that he lives in a tent inside a barn. He told me how grateful he is to the people who allow him to do that, and how he does what he can to pay them back. And he told me about how thankful he is for the VA, because he has had multiple surgeries - and that he is glad he only needs a walker because a wheelchair would make life really difficult for him.
He told me that he had a heart attack and died.
He said he saw himself laying down and then he was moving toward a glowing aura. He never believed in such a thing, although he believed in God, but now he said he saw it, and he isn't afraid of what comes after this life. He told me, with tears in his eyes, "I'm not afraid of what's on the other side. Who knows? Maybe I will get to see my parents again."
And that's when I began to cry.
I wasn't talking to a homeless beggar. I was talking to a human being. Fig is a person with a history and a future. I asked him if people are mean to him when he sits begging. He said for the most part, no, but sometimes people will drive by and yell, "GET A JOB!"
When that happens, he thinks, I'm 72 years old. I can't work. I did have a job. I worked for 49 years.
But he amiably acknowledged that people don't know that. And he is absolutely right. People don't know it, and they don't acknowledge it. He worked in carnivals for all those years. People who tell him to get a job probably go to carnivals. Somebody has to run the rides. But it's a job that has no benefits. No retirement. No security. We want people to do those jobs, but we don't give a thought to the position it puts them in. They are just supposed to disappear when they can't work anymore, I guess.
In my silly arrogance I thought I would stop and help a beggar on the side of the road. Instead, a man who has lived a "full and blessed" life talked with me for an hour - and touched my heart in a major way.
Every morning, Fig says a prayer:
"There are those who will, those who can't, and those who won't. God, please bless those who will."
Thank you so much for this program. You couldn't imagine how much this will help our family.
Currently in need of any help I can get.
Thank you for all that you do. It is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for the blessing you are.
It is possible to be so wrapped up in what you are doing you lose sight of what you are doing. You go from meeting to planning session to shopping, food prep and serving. And all the while you are content, but focused on the job at hand. There are so many things to do, so many people who want and need to talk, and so much thought and planning required to keep things going and make them the best they can be.
At the heart of it all is the mission. What we want to do at the Torch and 180 is to help other people. We want to give them hope that things can get better, and to remind them that right now, in the midst of their struggles, they are worth our time, effort, sweat, tears, and work. We want to take steps of faith that leave people without a doubt that they are important and loved.
And sometimes we need to hear, to be reminded and made aware, that we are helping - that what we do is needed and appreciated. We are filled, blessed and encouraged by the messages we often receive. We read them. We talk about them. We pray over them. And they humble us.
And we do remember, because not that long ago, we were there. We were searching for help, and absorbing the tiniest crumbs of hope that were scattered our way. We were longing for the touch from another human being which would gently remind us that we mattered, too, no matter how far down we were. We cherished those moments as much as we cherish the moments now, when people are helped and blessed by what we do.
Faith, love, and hope fuel and inspire us at the Torch. We believe people matter and that belief informs our actions and decisions. We are thankful and humbled we have the opportunity to live out what we believe. We know we are blessed, so incredibly blessed.
When I was a mean little sister - I would try to antagonize my older sister, Lisa. One day, I found a taunt that sent her running into the house crying. I was chanting over and over again, "Lisa, pizza, Lisa, pizza...", and laughing at how upset she became. I remember feeling quite taken aback when she soon came outside and said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Suddenly, in the face of a poem such as that, my "Lisa pizza" teasing felt flat and deflated - and it worked, I stopped saying it.
I was five.
Through the years, as I was growing up, I found myself facing many situations in which I would repeat that small poem over and over again. The reality, though, is that in spite of the fact hearing it worked to stop my kindergarten teasing - it isn't true for every situation. Sometimes words cut deep and hurt so profoundly we find ourselves feeling like we will never recover from the pain they inflict. And sometimes they humiliate and embarrass people so much that whatever fragile self-esteem they have crumbles into nothing.
Our world is more filled with words now than ever before. People who would never read an entire book can sit for hours reading Facebook posts and following Twitter feeds. We absorb words and messages at a rate unlike anything we have ever done in the past. And we have 24/7 access to people we may never even have to face. That seems to make it easier to fight and argue and say mean things that do nothing to build people up, and a whole lot to tear them down.
I can't say how often I have seen couples or siblings or people on opposite sides of the political scene, or even friends, fighting online. Sometimes their words are so hateful and derogatory, it makes me cringe. Rumors that destroy others are started, fueled and spread quickly through the use of words on social media. The more astonishing, shocking and hurtful they sound, the more quick people tend to be to share them.
Let's face it, it's much easier to hide behind a computer or cell phone and insult someone else than it is to confront them and discuss issues face to face. To say that words can never hurt me is more untrue in this society than ever before. They can hurt. They can devastate. Many of the words out there in cyberspace could be eliminated and there would be less pain in the world.
And the poem needs to change, maybe to something like: Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can certainly hurt me.
Just to remind us to use our words to heal.